Arquette and the Trouble with White Feminism (with updates)

I thought for sure that my next update in the trouble with white feminism series would be about Jessica Williams’ decision to take herself out of the running to replace Jon Stewart as the next host of The Daily Show.

Jessica Williams on The Daily Show

Following her very clear declaration about her decision, a number of white feminists stepped into Williams to let her know that she wasn’t doing feminism properly, needed to “lean in” and was likely “the latest victim of impostor syndrome.” Quickly afterward, several black feminists and womanists, including Mikki Kendall and LaToya Peterson, explained in detail all that was wrong with this.  Quite capable of speaking for herself, Jessica Williams fired back at white feminists and urged them to “Lean the F*** Away From Me,” in a counter to the Sandberg-ian admonition to “lean in”.

But that was last week.

On Sunday, Patricia Arquette won an acting award and gave a controversial acceptance speech on primetime network television that made Jessica Williams and that cable show where she works all last week’s news.

Arquette speech with quote

 

Since Arquette’s speech, a rather remarkable thing has been happening. Suddenly, ALL kinds of people are talking about, acknowledging and critiquing white feminism –  like it’s a thing now. All sorts of people who aren’t usually critical of and, indeed, barely acknowledge that there is even something called “white feminism,” are now writing about it like it’s their regular beat. I’m not mad, I’m just noticing. So, perhaps my work here with the trouble with white feminism series is done!

Well, almost, but not quite yet.

Arquette’s speech about “taxpayers” and “citizens” (pictured above) was for many folks a dog whistle about race and immigration. Put another way, lots of people thought “taxpayers” and “citizens” was a not very thinly veiled reference for racially coded language that meant “white people”. So when Arquette joined the ideas of “taxpayers” and “citizens” with her language about feminism, well, the “equal rights for women” part was hard to disentangle from the “taxpaying citizens” white supremacy part.

Arquette’s comments in backstage interviews have generated almost as much critique as what she said from the front stage. When asked to follow up, she said:

“The truth is, even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America, right under the surface there are huge issues that are at play that really do affect women. And it’s time for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for, to fight for us now.”

When I read this, I was reminded of Duke University Professor Sharon Holland’s book The Erotic Life of Racism (Duke U Press, 2012). Holland, who is African American, opens that book with a story about an encounter between herself and a white woman in a grocery store parking lot. The white woman is annoyed that Holland won’t move her car out of the way fast enough, and when she gets the chance to air her grievance, the white woman says to Holland, “And to think, I marched for you.”  For me, Arquette’s words are perfect echo of this encounter: “we’ve all fought for you, now it’s time you fought for us.”

So, what is wrong with this? What is the trouble with white feminism here?

As many others have noted already, there’s a bunch of trouble here. It is a condescending move, to demand that “Others” enroll in one’s struggle. The “intersectional fail” that Andrea Grimes is about who is included in the term “woman” or “women” as Arquette uses it. If you ask, “the gays” and “the people of color” to join in your fight for “women’s equality” the immediate question becomes: which women do you mean? Because actual people – actual human beings – get left out of that way of talking about “women.” Arquette’s call to action is one that leaves out queer, trans, lesbian women of all races and women of color of all gender and sexual identities.

This is where many, many white feminists (and other folks) part with the critique of Arquette. “She was just clumsy in her language – of course, she meant ALL women,” or “Everyone is criticizing her too harshly,” or “You think you’re so smart, who are you to judge how someone else does their activism” as someone said to me recently.  And, to be fair, I imagine it’s difficult to have such a huge platform and then get criticized. I also think it’s fair to say that not everyone knows what “intersectionality” means. (Part of why I built yesterday’s research brief around intersectionality.)

But here’s the thing.

White feminists keep getting to drive the bus of feminism by saying “yes all women” or “I meant to include trans/women of color, I just forgot,” but that is a form of structural erasure, as Imani Gandi explains. It’s also a form of erasure to when white women tell a woman of color she’s doesn’t “lean in” because she must be suffering from “impostor syndrome.” Very few white feminists came to Jessica Williams’ defense (or, for that matter, marched in the streets for #BlackLivesMatter), but when Patricia Arquette does her thing (or Justine Sacco), then there is an outcry about hurt feelings. There seems to be a double-standard in which white women’s feelings get special consideration, but I want to think more deeply about feelings for, as Sara Ahmed observes:

“It matters how we think about feeling. …if the violences that leave us fragile are those that bring us to feminism, no wonder a feminist bond is itself fragile: an easily broken thread of connection. Perhaps we need an account of some of these breaking points by not assuming we know what breaks at these points.”

What I see is happening again and again with white feminism is the way it causes these breaking points, if I understand Ahmed correctly here.  So, it is the condescension in Arquette’s speech, which comes from a position of power, that causes a breaking point. And then, when she is critiqued, this causes hurt feelings among white feminists, another “breaking point.”

There is also something to the aggrieved feeling (“we’ve fought for you” and, “I marched for you”) that is a key part of white feminism, and maybe even white womanhood as it’s currently constructed in the US. There is something in this which says, “I’ve done too much, I’ve fought battles for others I wasn’t actually invested in, I’ve done too many favors, and now it’s time for payback.”

Perhaps it is because I was raised in Texas under a particular regime of white womanhood, that these words, this tone sound familiar to me. This is what we used to call being “put upon,” the idea that someone was taking advantage of your good nature. White women, like my Big Granny, were especially good at it: “I’m just going to sit here, and suffer in silence, you’ll never hear a word out of me,” she used to say, with her strong Texas accent and not a hint of irony. She was aggrieved – as were most white women I knew in my family – because they had done too much for everyone else, and, a life time of that builds up bitterness, resentment and a sense of being aggrieved by the whole world. While it may be that a patriarchal culture demands this of (some) women, no one is asking white feminism to save them.

There are other “breaking points” when challenging white feminism. For people of color, the initial challenge is simply being heard, as they are frequently ignored. Once their voices have registered, they risk being bullied and verbally abused (or worse). Most likely they will be called “angry”, or in some cases, accused of starting a “race war”. These misreadings of critique as attack cause white women to further retreat from engaging about race and may even lead them to excluding women of color from feminist organizing in order to avoid even the possibility of criticism. For white women, like myself, speaking out about white feminism is to risk losing connection with white women – and the opportunities that come with that – and, to risk hurt feelings. Even as I was writing this piece, I could not keep from my mind the white women I know who might be upset by my writing this. To speak about white feminism, then, is to speak against a social order.

In many ways, the reaction to challenges to white feminism causes “unhappiness” which, to again turning to Sara Ahmed, can be a good thing:

“To be willing to go against a social order, which is protected as a moral order, a happiness order is to be willing to cause unhappiness, even if unhappiness is not your cause. To be willing to cause unhappiness might be about how we live an individual life (not to choose “the right path” is readable as giving up the happiness that is presumed to follow that path). …To be willing to cause unhappiness can also be how we immerse ourselves in collective struggle, as we work with and through others who share our points of alienation. Those who are unseated by the tables of happiness can find each other.”

As I read it, Ahmed’s is a hopeful analysis for those who seek to challenge white feminism. For those who are willing to cause unhappiness by challenging white feminism we can find each other as we work together and share our alienation from it.

The trouble with the white feminism in Arquette’s speech is tied to the historical past of white colonialism and the messy present of liberal feminism that centers white women’s experiences as the archetype, the conveners, the agenda-setters, the deciders for what matters.

Since everyone it seems is now writing about white feminism, I had a momentary flash when I thought we had reached some cataclysmic change. And then, Yasmin Nair’s piece (h/t Minh-Ha Pham), reminded me with a jolt that Arquette’s speech is a harbinger of the white feminism on the horizon:

Arquette’s brand of white female liberal feminism, the sort that brings other liberal feminists like Meryl Streep to her feet in cheers, is the sort that will overtake this country should Hillary Rodham Clinton finally decide to run in 2016.  Women like Arquette and Clinton are the reasons why I plan on not being in the US at all in 2016; my anger at their myopic, ahistorical, and entirely condescending politics — don’t you people of colour and gays ever forget what we did for you — is likely to result in either an angry ulcer or a deep, long fit of depression for me.

Nair is right to point out the looming white feminism of an Hillary Rodham Clinton presidential bid. And, as if confirming this, in a New York Times report about an event in Silicon Valley, identified the other high profile white feminist in the room in the following way:

“At the event was Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, who was a high-level Treasury Department aide in President Bill Clinton’s administration before becoming a generous Democratic donor. Her 2013 book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” became a much-debated guide for wealthy working mothers.”

The last line about “a guide for wealthy working mothers” is shade from the NYTimes, friends, and about as close as the paper of record will get to doing a piece on white feminism.  Until then, I’ll keep offering a context for understanding the trouble with white feminism that goes beyond “people (mostly women of color) on the Internet are mean.”

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List of posts about Arquette and critical of white feminism since the awards show (in no particular order, updated 2/26 9:53amET):

 

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~ This post is part of a series, The Trouble with White Feminism. If you’re new here, this is the sixteenth post in an on-going series I began in 2014. To read the previous entries, begin with the initial post and navigate through using the “Read next post in series” link. I’ll eventually compile all these into an eBook, for ease of reading. If you have suggestions for what to include in the series, use the contact form on this blog, or hit me up on the Twitter machine: @JessieNYC

Research Brief: Intersectionality

For today’s research brief, I’ve pulled together some sources on intersectionality. The acceptance speech by Patricia Arquette at last night’s Academy Awards show has a lot of people talking about the importance of understanding intersectionality, but as Akiba Solomon at Colorlines reminds us, not everyone understands what intersectionality means. So, if you’re unclear about what it means, here are a few items to add to your reading list. As always in these research briefs, I note whether articles are behind a paywall (locked), or freely available on the open web (OA).

Research in the Dictionary

 

  • Brah, Avtar, and Ann Phoenix. “Ain’t IA Woman? Revisiting Intersectionality.”Journal of International Women’s Studies 5, no. 3 (2013): 75-86. Abstract: In the context of the second Gulf war and US and the British occupation of Iraq, many ‘old’ debates about the category ‘woman’ have assumed a new critical urgency. This paper revisits debates on intersectionality in order to show that they can shed new light on how we might approach some current issues. It first discusses the 19th century contestations among feminists involved in anti-slavery struggles and campaigns for women’s suffrage. The second part of the paper uses autobiography and empirical studies to demonstrate that social class (and its intersections with gender and ‘race’ or sexuality) are simultaneously subjective, structural and about social positioning and everyday practices. It argues that studying these intersections allows a more complex and dynamic understanding than a focus on social class alone. The conclusion to the paper considers the potential contributions to intersectional analysis of theoretical and political approaches such as those associated with post-structuralism, post-colonial feminist analysis, and diaspora studies. (OA)
  • Crenshaw, Kimberle. “Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color.” Stanford law review (1991): 1241-1299. No abstract available, but this is the article that sparked an intellectual movement. Unfortunately, it’s also behind a paywall. (locked)
  • McCall, Leslie.“The complexity of intersectionality.” Signs 40, no. 1 (2014). Opening (in lieu of abstract): Since critics first alleged that feminism claimed to speak universally for all women, feminist researchers have been acutely aware of the limitations of gender as a single analytical category. In fact, feminists are perhaps alone in the academy in the extent to which they have embraced intersectionality—the relationships among multiple dimensions and modalities of social relations and subject formations—as itself a central category of analysis. One could even say that intersectionality is the most important theoretical contribution that women’s studies, in conjunction with related fields, has made so far. Yet despite the emergence of intersectionality as a major paradigm of research in women’s studies and elsewhere, there has been little discussion of how to study intersectionality, that is, of its methodology.(locked)
  • Nash, Jennifer C. “Re-thinking intersectionality.” Feminist Review 89, no. 1 (2008): 1-15. Abstract: Intersectionality has become the primary analytic tool that feminist and anti-racist scholars deploy for theorizing identity and oppression. This paper exposes and critically interrogates the assumptions underpinning intersectionality by focusing on four tensions within intersectionality scholarship: the lack of a defined intersectional methodology; the use of black women as quintessential intersectional subjects; the vague definition of intersectionality; and the empirical validity of intersectionality. Ultimately, my project does not seek to undermine intersectionality; instead, I encourage both feminist and anti-racist scholars to grapple with intersectionality’s theoretical, political, and methodological murkiness to construct a more complex way of theorizing identity and oppression. (locked)
  • Yuval-Davis, Nira. “Intersectionality and feminist politics.” European Journal of Women’s Studies 13, no. 3 (2006): 193-209. Abstract: This article explores various analytical issues involved in conceptualizing the interrelationships of gender, class, race and ethnicity and other social divisions. It compares the debate on these issues that took place in Britain in the 1980s and around the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism. It examines issues such as the relative helpfulness of additive or mutually constitutive models of intersectional social divisions; the different analytical levels at which social divisions need to be studied, their ontological base and their relations to each other. The final section of the article attempts critically to assess a specific intersectional methodological approach for engaging in aid and human rights work in the South. (locked)

Happy intersectional reading!

10 Things To Watch Instead of the Oscars

The unrelenting whiteness of the annual Academy Awards show has finally gotten to be too much. After decades of ridiculous votes, like the Academy’s preference for “Driving Miss Daisy” over Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” in 1989, folks have had enough.

driving_miss_daisy do_the_right_thing

The hashtag #OscarsSoWhite created by lawyer, blogger and social media professional, April Reign (@ReignofApril) has exploded on Twitter, with people posting something like 95,000 tweets per hour. For the full rundown on the hashtag and the unbearable whiteness of the Oscars, see this terrific piece by Rebecca Theodore-Vachon (@FilmFatale_NYC).

So, what to watch now if you’d planned to tune into the Oscars tonight? Here are 10 things you could watch instead:

1. Coming to America. The classic comedy with Eddie Murphy, who plays an African prince who travels to Queens, NY to find a wife whom he can respect for her intelligence and will. As a direct counter to the Oscars, April Reign is leading a live ‘watch and tweet’ party at 9pmET. (Currently streaming on Netflix.)

2.  Selma. The powerful drama about the epic march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 and Dr. King’s campaign for equal voting rights, directed by Ava DuVernay, is currently available on iTunes.

3. Reel Injun. A documentary about the depiction of Native Americans in Hollywood. (Currently streaming on Netflix.)

4. A Good Day to Die. Dennis Banks, leader of the American Indian Movement, looks back on his life and reflects on the rise of the movement.  (Currently streaming on Netflix.)

5. Documented. In 2011, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in the New York Times Magazine. ‘Documented’ chronicles his journey to America from the Philippines as a child; his journey through America as an immigration reform activist/provocateur; and his journey inward as he re-connects with his mother, whom he hasn’t seen in 20 years. (Currently streaming on Netflix.)

6. Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People. A really fascinating documentary that explores the role of photography in shaping the identity, aspirations, and social emergence of African Americans from slavery to the present, this film probes the recesses of American history through images that have been suppressed, forgotten, and lost. (Currently streaming on PBS.)

7. The Other Side of Immigration. Based on over 700 interviews in Mexican towns where about half the population has left to work in the US, this film asks why so many Mexicans come to the U.S. and what happens to the families and communities they leave behind.  (Currently streaming on Netflix.)

8. Klansville, USA. North Carolina, long seen as the most progressive state in the South, became home to the largest Klan organization in the country, with more members than all the other Southern states combined, during the 1960s. This film tries to understand this seeming contradiction in the North Carolina and its history with the Klan. (Currently streaming on PBS.)

9. The Book of Negroes. Based on historical accounts, this is a mini-series about Aminata, who is kidnapped in Africa and subsequently enslaved in South Carolina, and who must navigate a revolution in New York, isolation in Nova Scotia and treacherous jungles of Sierra Leone, in an attempt to secure her freedom in the 19th century. (Currently airing on BET, available as VOD in some areas.)

10. How to Get Away with Murder. This is a series starring Viola Davis as law professor Annalise Keating who instructs a group of ambitious law students in the intricacies of criminal defense through real-world experience. The episode with Cicely Tyson playing the mother of Annalise Keating is some of the best acting I’ve seen on any type of screen in a very long time. Not to be missed. (Currently airing on ABC, available as VOD in some areas.)

Enjoy counter programming your evening. Or, more radical still, read a book.

#JeSuisCharlie? Maybe if you’re white!

Now that some of the dust has settled following the shooting of 12 cartoonists from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, the numbers are in.

According to a recent Pew survey  (n=1,003), 3 in 4 Americans heard about the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and 60% supported the magazine’s depiction of the Prophet Mohammed, echoing the rallying call “#IAmCharlie” that took the internet by storm in the days following this tragic incident. In fact, #IAmCharlie became one of the most tweeted hashtags in Twitter history.
Je Suis Charlie protest in France

(Image source)

Among those who defended the cartoons as acceptable, the study finds two things were key among supporters. 70% cited “freedom of the press” to defend their positions, and roughly 1 in 10 defended the magazine as an “equal opportunity offender” that took jabs at all groups, not just Muslims. But a closer look at the numbers reveals a significant gap between whites and non-whites and their approval of the cartoons. While 70% of whites believed it was “Okay” for the magazine to publish insulting cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, only 37% of non-whites believed they were acceptable.

In other words, if you tweeted #IAmCharlie in the days following the incident, it’s safe to say you were probably white—and male (67% of males and 52% of females thought the cartoons were “Okay”). Even among liberals we can see a clear racial divide on this issue. Among liberals, 66% of whites supported the cartoons, while only 39% of non-whites did.

What this survey reveals is that beliefs in notions like “free speech” and “the sense of humor” are colored by race. Moreover, it illustrates that a “white racial frame” was at play for individuals making sense of this tragic incident. According to sociologist Joe Feagin, a white racial frame is a dominant ideological perspective that allows whites (and often non-whites) to interpret discriminatory and oppressive events and information in ways that defend and accentuate white actions as righteous. From this perspective, the insulting cartoons of the Prophet may be “tasteless,” but they were merely an exercise in “free speech,” a core Western value after all. Moreover, a white racial frame suggests the magazine was vulgar and offensive in a “responsible way”—it mocked everyone, even the Pope! Therefore, the real problem is Islam, not the cartoons.

While some have tried to defend this kind of humor on grounds that the tradition of satire has always been to “punch everyone,” my research on racial humor suggests that an “equal opportunity offender” strategy is a more recent phenomenon. For instance, in the U.S. it was only after communities of color publically challenged the decades long use of racial ridicule by whites (e.g., blackface minstrelsy) during the civil rights movement that white humorists began to diversify their targets to avoid being labeled “racist.” Moreover, countless examples illustrate that “satire” works most effectively when it “punches up” not down the social hierarchy. That is, when it challenges the prevailing power structure (Richard Pryor and George Carlin come to mind. See Hari Kondabolu, Aamer Rahman, and John Oliver for more recent examples). Otherwise, such “humor” is little more than taunting and bullying and only works to confirm existing power relations.

Yes, we should all condemn the killing of the cartoonists. But, in the wake of the routine shooting of black and brown bodies by police officers, the ongoing “war on terror” that targets Arab-Americans as suspect, and let’s not forget the ongoing wars in the Middle East, historic levels of incarceration of blacks and Latin@s, and the mass deportation of Latin@s, it’s no surprise that for people of color in the U.S. it’s was kind of hard to #IAmCharlie.

In the end, the attacks on Charlie Hebdo will work to strengthen a white racial frame if we do not work to challenge it. This incident will be used to highlight Muslim extremism and violence as the rule, rather than the exception, and further justify racial profiling. It is worth pointing out that the reverse does not make sense through this powerful racial frame. White shooters are not viewed as terrorists, and their actions are not reflected upon all whites. And therein lays the danger of this dominant racial frame in reinforcing a system of racial inequality.

~ Guest blogger Raúl Nguyen-Pérez is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at University of California at Irvine

Comey’s (and Capehart’s) Uncritical Analysis of Racism

On February 12, 2015, James B. Comey delivered a speech at Georgetown University that has garnered much media attention for delivering “hard truths” about racism in the United States.

Comey’s recent remarks, and those by Jonathon Capehart, Washington Post and MSNBC pundit about the Comey speech, reveal the weak, uninformed analyses of race and the evasion of the institutional, structural and systemic racism in the U.S.

FBI Director Comey (Image by Sophie Faaborg-Anderson)

What would appear to be a welcoming speech that partially recognizes law enforcement agencies’ biased approach to policing is, however, offset by disappointing “half truths,” misperceptions and rhetorical reversals that work to deflate focus on police hyper-aggression toward people of color and ignore the systemically racist structures of the US justice system.

While acknowledging that “there is a disconnect between police agencies and many citizens—predominately in communities of color” and that relations between police and people of color is “not pretty,” Comey then proceeds to regurgitate the problematic discourse about race in the US and the weak racial analysis that focuses exclusively on racial attitudes, as with much of social science (see Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva, 2008).

Extremely troubling is Comey’s understanding that racial problems in the US exist primarily because of racial biases of individuals, a view that completely ignores institutional structural and systemic racism.

Equally troubling is Comey’s insinuation that all Americans are “racist,” a term he inappropriately uses interchangeably with racially “biased.” Comey notes that he is “reminded of the song from the Broadway hit, Avenue Q: ‘Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.’ Part of it goes like this: 

Look around and you will find
No one’s really color blind.
Maybe it’s a fact
We all should face
Everyone makes judgments
Based on race.

After establishing that all Americans are “racist”—that is, harbor racial biases —  Comey continues to reflect uncritically on US racial matters and elude discussion of the institutional racism that runs deep in law enforcement agencies.  He points out the “real and perceived biases, both within and outside law enforcement,” de-escalating accountability of the real biases of police by aligning it with much less consequential perceived police biases, and equating the highly consequential biases of law enforcement with everyday racial biases outside law enforcement.

Ferguson protestor, hands up

(Image by Scott Olson)

While, indeed, perceived biases exist outside (and about) law enforcement, these perceived biases often have substance and validity due to the much larger, more far-reaching realities of law enforcement biases that shape police practice. Biases of those “outside law enforcement” are much less significant in police-community relations, because citizens who interact with police do not have the power and “legitimate,” ubiquitous force (backed by clubs, guns, tasers/CEWs, and assorted military arsenal) possessed by those who enforce the law. Here we have Comey disingenuously comparing disparate forms of biases and unequalized power relations between US citizens and law enforcement, whose biases have much more weight and effect.

Comey also trips up and presents a confusing analysis when he attempts to compare the prejudice faced by early Irish immigrants with that faced by African Americans. Predictably, he presents a portrait of his white Irish grandfather as “hero” of law enforcement and exemplar of righteousness. After claiming that Irish faced discrimination by law enforcement (referencing the “paddy wagon”), he then, very confusingly, backs off this point, noting that “little compares to the experience of racial (discrimination) …of black Americans” and that “[m]any people in our white-majority culture have unconscious racial biases and react differently to a white face than a black face.” While at one point Comey mentions problems inherent in policing “communities of color,” he never addresses the large-scale police bias against Latinos, the largest community of color in the US, a point raised by Juan Cartagena at Huffington Post.

There are a number of other serious missteps with Comey’s speech. After half acknowledging problems with law enforcement’s racial biases, Comey then reverses his position and raises concerns that the “difficult conversation about race and policing has become focused entirely on the nature and character of law enforcement officers.” At this point, Comey quickly retreats from focus on police misbehavior to the “dangerous” environment of those victimized by police. Instead of maintaining focus of the history of police misconduct and discrimination toward people of color, he then begins to argue that “we all carry biases around with us” and “racial bias isn’t epidemic in law enforcement any more than it is epidemic in academia or the arts.” Here he diverts attention away from law enforcement racial biases and underestimates racial biases existing in academia and arts. Do racial biases substantially exist or not? Should we focus on law enforcement biases or not? It is hard to discern Comey’s position with this back and forth, imprecise rhetoric. At one moment in his speech, we are all biased, and at the next moment, racial biases appear to be a superficial or ancillary issue; at first, police are deemed biased, and shortly thereafter, he feels there is over-focus on police biases.

This double-talk is followed up by glorification, no longer a critique, of police who “risk their lives” and “don’t sign up to…help white people or black people or Hispanic people or Asian people. They sign up because they want to help all people.” Well, if Comey’s initial points about police racial biases toward people of color are to be taken seriously, how do we all of a sudden move to a colorblind police force? This flip-flop appears to be one of the most disingenuous moments of his speech, because in the next couple paragraphs Comey returns to a discussion of police “cynicism” toward blacks, noting that “two young black men on one side of the street look like so many others the officer has locked up. Two white men on the other side of the street…do not.” In this scenario, it does not seem that police are being equally helpful to both groups, but instead favoring one over the other.

Of serious concern is the next set arguments made by Comey when addressing the “fourth hard truth.” Comey moves even farther away from his critique of law enforcement’s historical mistreatment of blacks and issues of racism in US society by arguing that the reason “so many black men (are) in jail” has nothing to do with “racism” of “cops, prosecutors, judges and juries,” but rather blacks’ pathological criminal behavior and dysfunctional community life. This is another disingenuous, mind-numbing move that completely ignores issues of racial profiling, hyper-policing in black neighborhoods and the long history of a rigged justice system that targets black Americans (from all white juries in the Deep South to the stop-and-frisk programs and excessive prosecution of blacks for petty offenses in the Northern US).

Comey goes on to present a “culture of poverty” argument about blacks’ poor interaction with police and trouble with the law, in essence, blaming the victims of police aggression toward the black community. Next, Comey disparages black neighborhoods, black families and black individuals whose “legacy of crime and prison,” he states, represent the main problem, fully ignoring how blacks have been subject to the whims and abuses of the US justice system for centuries up until the present day. In an effort to portray criminals as blacks and crime as a black problem, nowhere in his speech does Comey address white crime (crimes that adversely affect US society on much greater scale than crimes by people of color—see John Hagan’s Who Are the Criminals?), even claiming that police do not overlook the criminal behavior of whites. However, as Chauncey DeVega’s insightful analysis of the Comey speech notes:

Police and law enforcement do in fact “turn a blind eye” to white criminals. White criminals destroyed the American economy through fraud and other illegal acts have not been punished. White people have a higher rate of drug use in the United States than African Americans and other people of color. However, the country’s prisons are full of black and brown people.

The white racial frame has even robbed American public discourse of the language to discuss the fact that there are a myriad of crimes (mass shootings, treason, domestic terrorism, etc.) that are overwhelmingly committed by white people. We have the language of “black crime;” there is no equivalent speech for “white crime.”

Toward the end of his speech, Comey acknowledges his “affection for cops” and returns to uncritical praise of law enforcement, arguing rather ignorantly that when dialing 911, “cops…come quickly whether you are white or black.” This is patently false with regard to 911 responses to problems in black neighborhoods. As Flavor Flav perceptively notes, “I dialed 911 a long time ago, don’t you see how late they’re reactin’…911 is a joke.”

Having moved away from addressing the very real systemic problems of race and law enforcement, Comey ends his speech with a one-way concern for police who have been killed in the line of duty. He completely evades acknowledging the multitudes of people of color killed and physically abused by police on a daily basis—indeed, to focus on deaths of police officers at the hands of people of color pales in comparison to the vast number of black deaths by police. Ultimately, the speech is an empty, meaningless, vexing one that deserves none of the commendations it has received by numerous mainstream media sources.

Yet, echoing many other news media pundits, Jonathon Capehart of the Washington Post offers one of many stunted, uncritical analyses of the speech, presenting undue admiration of Comey’s analytically inept discussion of race and law enforcement.

Capehart on TV

(Image source)

Capehart claims Comey is “no coward on race” and believes the “searing and true speech” delivers a “critical assessment” of the problems inherent in the relationship between law enforcement and race, arguing that Comey’s speech “is as important as Obama’s and Holder’s speeches on race.”

Capehart incorrectly perceives Comey’s speech as a “challenge” to US citizens “to face our nation’s flawed racial past…” If Comey even came close to meeting such a challenge, one might be able sympathize with Capehart’s ill-considered plea. Yet, Comey never addresses the racial past in any meaningful way, never addresses the structural, institutional and systemic racism that defines that past and largely places blame on the victims of racial injustices of law enforcement. Clearly, Capehart seems not to have closely read or watched the speech or, like Comey, has little understanding of the ever-present systemically racist realities of the United States.

White Women, People of Color: Lower Salaries in Academia

A study just issued by the University of California at Berkeley identifies the fact that the compensation of female faculty lags behind their male counterparts by -4.3 percent within their respective fields or the equivalent of one to four years of career experience (excluding controls for rank). However, if demography alone is considered without respect to years of experience or field, women have a negative salary difference of -15.8 percent. When experience is considered, this difference diminishes to -11.3 percent. When rank and field are factored into the equation, under the assumption that full professors are more likely to be white and male based on hiring practices that prevailed over the last two or three decades, then the gap narrows from -1.8 percent. Similarly, the salaries of minority faculty lag behind white faculty by 1-2 years of career experience or between -1.0 and -1.8 percent.

How does Berkeley account for these differences? Possible causes include external factors including market and retention as well as social factors such as time off the tenure clock for a newly born or adopted child. In Academic Motherhood, Kelly Ward and Lisa Wolf-Wendel share research indicating that it would take thirty-five years for the sex composition of faculty to equalize at senior ranks to attain equal status. This equity could only happen if there were no gender discrimination and faculty abilities were presumed to be roughly similar. Ward and Wolf-Wendel note that women tend to be older than men when they attain their doctorates and enter the faculty workforce later, partly due to dual career constraints.

As a result, the authors emphasize that colleges and universities could do more to make their climates hospitable, equitable and accepting for faculty members with families. In particular, they note the importance of ensuring that family friendly policies such as stopping the tenure clock for maternity leave are not only established, but implemented so that faculty members feel free to use them.

Another variable the UC Berkeley report considers is the fact that decisions about promotion are based upon evidence presented and judgment made about that evidence. Since no mechanical process exists to translate the evidence into outcomes, judgments of merit are vulnerable to positive and negative implicit associations that can be triggered by factors such as race, ethnicity, or gender. Recall the 2013 UCLA report that identified incidents of process-based discrimination in hiring, advancement and retention based on interviews with faculty as well as written statements. Several incidents involving perceived bias when faculty members believed that they were denied advancement usually through an unfavorable letter from the department chair or dean and/or a negative departmental vote.

The discrepancies in compensation for women and minority faculty reflect underlying structural constraints that Houston A. Baker and K. Merinda Simmons refer to in their new co-edited book, The Trouble with Post-blackness, as “the intensely complicated system of economic access” that defies simplistic notions of personal agency and meritocracy”(p. 15). In one of the book’s essays, John L. Jackson Jr. writes about the stories other minority scholars shared with him in the academy:

No amount of publishing productivity exempts you from the vulnerabilities and burdens that come with underrepresentation in the academy.” Jackson adds, “Being ‘twice as good’ as most of their white colleagues (by objective and agreed-upon criteria) still wasn’t enough to spare them from the stigma of race-based stigma” (p. 204).

And mentoring is also important for women and minority faculty in navigating the internal organization, obtaining help with research and publications, understanding promotion and tenure criteria, and advancing in rank. As Rachel Shteir writes in “Taking the Men Out of Mentoring” women can be exhausted from the struggle of trying to get ahead, with little energy for mentoring others. As she explains,

I see women stuck at the associate level, living paycheck to paycheck, renting without savings…. Gender equity in salaries and rank have not been achieved.

A considerable body of research identifies the role of mentoring in opening channels for women and minorities by enhancing social capital, preventing career derailment, nurturing self-confidence, reducing isolation, and improving job satisfaction.

All in all, the Berkeley study underscores the continuing need for viable strategies that will help retain and develop diverse and talented faculty members by creating a more expansive and inclusive value proposition that promotes career progress and enhances retention.

Conflicting Worlds of the Racialized US “Justice” System

Inside me a little chuckle comes to life, while simultaneously my lips curl to form a devious smile when people discuss subjects and infuse the word “irony.” It simply is one of those words I despise when it is used incorrectly due to my hard-hitting 5th grade teacher who wheeled the English dictionary as a master swordsman. Rarely do I see true examples of irony within my life. But a few weeks ago one was pitched out of the mouth of Anderson Cooper. Due to its little national attention, many will not remember the fascinating story of Marissa Alexander, who is African American. Her story began two years before George Zimmerman claimed self-defense in the killing of Trayvon Martin. It was only two years before he desperately hinged his defense upon Florida’s heated Stand Your Ground statue to avoid prosecution that Alexander had claimed the same defense. But unlike Zimmerman, she ultimately and physically harmed no one.

On August 1, 2010, she claimed to law enforcement authorities that her then-husband attempted to strangle her after reading a text conversation between Marissa and her ex-husband. She says she attempted to flee his grasps and ran into another area of the house where she retrieved her handgun. When her husband threatened to kill her, she decided to fire a warning shot into the wall. In a deposition, her husband noted:

If my kids weren’t there, I knew I probably would have tried to take the gun from her,” Gray said. “If my kids wouldn’t have been there, I probably would have put my hand on her.

When the defense attorney inquired to what he meant by putting his hands upon her, Gray replied,

Probably hit her. I got five baby mammas and I put my hands on every last one of them except for one.

This previous law abiding mother of three refused a three-year plea deal and opted for a trial. Why not? She truly believed that she was lawfully right to do what she did. Her entire defense profoundly relied upon the Stand Your Ground statue. But unlike Zimmerman, she was found guilty in only 12 minutes. Subsequently she was sentenced to a 20-year term for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. She spent 1,030 days in jail before an appellate court ordered a new trial due to troubling issues with jury instructions. The Florida state prosecutor has been criticized for her over-zealous effort that overcharged Alexander. She and the state’s attorney office have been previously demonized by the National Organization for Women, Jesse Jackson, the advocacy group Color of Change. Regardless of the outcry, the prosecutor reported to the public that she would be re-prosecuting. This time, she aimed for three consecutive 20-year sentences. Luckily for Alexander, in January of 2015, a Circuit Judge failed to sentence her to the years requested by the state prosecutor. Instead Alexander will be considered a convicted felon where she will spend the next two years on house arrest. She will continue to wear a GPS monitor that will cost her approximately a total of $11,000 for the remaining of her two year sentence.

John Hope Franklin argues,

… the history of the United States is indeed brief. But during the brief span of three and on-half centuries of colonial and national history Americans developed traditions and prejudices which created the two worlds of race in modern America.”

Undeniably, the legal justice system is such a place where the two racial worlds are on display. For example, even though Blacks make up 12-13 percent of this country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (2008) “1 in 3 Black men and 1 in 18 Black females occupy our U.S. prison system.”

Is this justice? No, it is simply as the dictionary explains. The situation described above is simply an “incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result.” You know, irony.

Race and Online Dating

Valentine’s Day for many people means (re-)subscribing to an online dating service. According to some estimates, more than 20 million people per month use online dating services.

Does race affect dating? The folks at OKCupid have interesting data about this, and the answer is: yes. They’ve been collecting data on their site (and others they’ve acquired) about racial patterns in dating from 2009-2014.

(CC image from Flickr user @atbondi)

 

OKCupid analyzed their internal data by race and found that: “although race shouldn’t matter … it does. A lot.” 

Have things changed in dating patterns at OKCupid since 2009? Their answer: “In some ways, no. OkCupid users are certainly no more open-minded than they used to be. If anything, racial bias has intensified a bit.”

The way OKCupid works, in case you’ve never dipped your toe in the waters of online dating, is that you set up an ad, or “Profile” describing yourself, your interests, what you’re looking for in a date.  Then, when people read your profile, they can send you a “Message” within the site, indicating their interest in you.

What the data show pretty clearly is that in figuring out who gets “messages”  and “replies” – or traffic from potential dates – race matters. The patterns for the straight crowd looks like this (from here):

  • White men get more responses. Whatever it is, white males just get more replies from almost every group. We were careful to preselect our data pool so that physical attractiveness (as measured by our site picture-rating utility) was roughly even across all the race/gender slices. For guys, we did likewise with height.
  • White women prefer white men to the exclusion of everyone else—and Asian and Hispanic women prefer them even more exclusively. These three types of women onlyrespond well to white men. More significantly, these groups’ reply rates to non-whites is terrible.
  • Black women write back the most. Black women are by far the most likely to respond to a first contact attempt. In many cases, their response rate is one and a half times the average, and, overall, black women reply about a quarter more often that other women.

The interesting contradiction is that OKCupid also asks people “Is interracial marriage a bad idea?” and, as with most liberals, the responses are overwhelmingly positive in the direction of “no, not a bad idea” (98% answering in the negative to the question). They also ask “Would you prefer to date someone of your own skin color/racial background?” Again, a huge majority (87%) say no. OKCupid chalks this up to a collective “schizophrenia” about race.

In same-sex dating “the prejudices are a bit less pronounced,” but the predominance of white men persists.  Here’s what the gay-lesbian dating looks like (from here):

  • White gays and lesbians respond by far the least to anyone.
  • Black gays and lesbians get fewer responses. This is consistent with the straight data, too.
  • Asian lesbians are replied to the most, and, among the well-represented groups, they have the most defined racial preferences: they respond very well to other Asians, Whites, Native Americans, and Middle Easterners, but very poorly to the other groups.

The folks analyzing this data at OKCupid rightfully note that they’re the only ones (among dating sites) releasing this data, and take pains to note that there’s likely nothing uniquely ‘biased’ about their users:

It’s surely not just OkCupid users that are like this. In fact, it’s any dating site (and indeed any collection of people) would likely exhibit messaging biases similar to what [is] written up [here]. According to our internal metrics, at least, OkCupid’s users are better-educated, younger, and far more progressive than the norm, so I can imagine that many sites would actually have worse race stats.

It’s an interesting point that highlights in many ways, how facile our thinking is when it comes to race and racism.

We’re stuck, it seems, in the collective myth that “racism” looks like Bull Connor, when in fact, racism can – and often does – appear to be “well educated, younger, and progressive.”  As Sharon P. Holland notes in her excellent book, The Erotic Life of Racism (Duke U Press, 2012), these quotidian, daily choices about who we choose to love shape not only individual, personal lives, but also the contours of collective society.

 

Islamophobia is a form of Racism

On Tuesday, three Muslim Americans were murdered by a white assailant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The victims, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, were shot in the head by Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, a white man.

ChapelHill Shooting Victims

Deah Shaddy Barakat, left, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha

(Image source)

A “dispute over parking,” was what led to the shooting according to some of the initial news reports. Ripley Rand, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina, said at a news conference about the shootings: “We don’t have any evidence that this was part of an organized effort against Muslims. This appears, at this point, to have been an isolated incident.”

What the dominant news stories and Rand’s comments miss, are the connection between Islamophobia and systematic racism. As Professor Mohamad Elmasry points out, Muslims are consistently portrayed as “inherently dangerous” in western media.

As a response to what many saw as a denial of role of Islamophobia and racism in the murder, people took to Twitter to express their outrage, using the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter, which was soon trending.

There is a fairly well-established, and yet still growing, body of research which documents the racialization of Muslim people and the rise of Islamophobia in the West as forms of racism. Just some of this research includes the following (UPDATED 2/13/15 with additional citation by Stein & Salime):

  • Dunn, Kevin M., Natascha Klocker, and Tanya Salabay. “Contemporary racism and Islamaphobia in Australia Racializing religion.” Ethnicities 7, no. 4 (2007): 564-589. Abstract: Contemporary anti-Muslim sentiment in Australia is reproduced through a racialization that includes well rehearsed stereotypes of Islam, perceptions of threat and inferiority, as well as fantasies that the Other (in this case Australian Muslims) do not belong, or are absent. These are not old or colour-based racisms, but they do manifest certain characteristics that allow us to conceive a racialization process in relation to Muslims. Three sets of findings show how constructions of Islam are important means through which racism is reproduced. First, public opinion surveys reveal the extent of Islamaphobia in Australia and the links between threat perception and constructions of alien-ness and Otherness. The second data set is from a content analysis of the racialized pathologies of Muslims and their spaces. The third is from an examination of the undercurrents of Islamaphobia and national cultural selectivity in the politics of responding to asylum seekers. Negative media treatment is strongly linked to antipathetic government dispositions. This negativity has material impacts upon Australian Muslims. It sponsors a more widespread Islamaphobia, (mis)informs opposition to mosque development and ever more restrictive asylum seeker policies, and lies behind arson attacks and racist violence. Ultimately, the racialization of Islam corrupts belonging and citizenship for Muslim Australians. (locked)
  • Gottschalk, Peter, and Gabriel Greenberg. Islamophobia: making Muslims the enemy. Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. Book description: The term “Islamophobia” reflects the largely unexamined and deeply ingrained anxiety many Americans experience when considering Islam and Muslim cultures. Until recently, America has had only a small domestic Muslim minority and few connections to Muslim cultures with whom to build familiarity. In times of crisis, the long-simmering resentments, suspicions and fears manifest themselves. This book graphically shows how political cartoons–the print medium with the most immediate impact–dramatically reveal Americans demonizing and demeaning Muslims and Islam. It also reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the Muslim world in general and issues a wake-up call to the American people. (available at libraries)
  • Hussain, Yasmin, and Paul Bagguley. “Securitized citizens: Islamophobia, racism and the 7/7 London bombings.” The Sociological Review 60, no. 4 (2012): 715-734. Abstract: The London bombings of 7 July 2005 were a major event shaping the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims in Britain. In this paper we introduce the idea of ‘securitized citizens’ to analyse the changing relationship between British Muslims and wider British society in response to this and similar events. Through an analysis of qualitative interviews with Muslims and non-Muslims of a variety of ethnic backgrounds in the areas where the London bombers lived in West Yorkshire we examine the popular perceptions of non-Muslims and Muslims’ experiences. We show how processes of securitization and racialization have interacted with Islamophobic discourses and identifications, as well as the experiences of Muslims in West Yorkshire after the attacks. (locked)
  • Poynting, Scott, and Victoria Mason. “The resistible rise of Islamophobia Anti-Muslim racism in the UK and Australia before 11 September 2001.” Journal of Sociology 43, no. 1 (2007): 61-86. Abstract: This article compares the rise of anti-Muslim racism in Britain and Australia, from 1989 to 2001, as a foundation for assessing the extent to which the upsurge of Islamophobia after 11 September was a development of existing patterns of racism in these two countries. The respective histories of immigration and settlement by Muslim populations are outlined, along with the relevant immigration and ‘ethnic affairs’ policies and the resulting demographics. The article traces the ideologies of xenophobia that developed in Britain and Australia over this period. It records a transition from anti-Asian and anti-Arab racism to anti-Muslim racism, reflected in and responding to changes in the identities and cultural politics of the minority communities. It outlines instances of the racial and ethnic targeting by the state of the ethnic and religious minorities concerned, and postulates a causal relationship between this and the shifting patterns of acts of racial hatred, vilification and discrimination. (locked)
  • Saeed, Amir. “Media, racism and Islamophobia: The representation of Islam and Muslims in the media.” Sociology Compass 1, no. 2 (2007): 443-462. Abstract: This article examines the representation of Islam and Muslims in the British press. It suggests that British Muslims are portrayed as an ‘alien other’ within the media. It suggests that this misrepresenatation can be linked to the development of a ‘racism’, namely, Islamphobia that has its roots in cultural representations of the ‘other’. In order to develop this arguement, the article provies a summary/overview of how ethnic minorities have been represented in the British press and argues that the treatment of British Muslims and Islam follows these themes of ‘deviance’ and ‘un-Britishness’. (locked)
  • Sheridan, Lorraine P. “Islamophobia pre–and post–September 11th, 2001.”Journal of Interpersonal Violence 21, no. 3 (2006): 317-336. Abstract: Although much academic research has addressed racism, religious discrimination has been largely ignored. The current study investigates levels of selfreported racial and religious discrimination in a sample of 222 British Muslims. Respondents indicate that following September 11th, 2001, levels of implicit or indirect discrimination rose by 82.6% and experiences of overt discrimination by 76.3%. Thus, the current work demonstrates that major world events may affect not only stereotypes of minority groups but also prejudice toward minorities. Results suggest that religious affiliation may be a more meaningful predictor of prejudice than race or ethnicity. General Health Questionnaire scores indicate that 35.6% of participants likely suffered mental health problems, with significant associations between problem-indicative scores and reports of experiencing a specific abusive incident of September 11th–related abuse by respondents. The dearth of empirical work pertaining to religious discrimination and its effects is a cause for concern. (locked)
  • Stein, Arlene, and Zakia Salime. “Manufacturing Islamophobia: Rightwing Pseudo-Documentaries and the Paranoid Style.” Journal of Communication Inquiry (2015): 0196859915569385. Abstract: Rightwing organizations in the United States have produced and circulated a number of videos which exaggerate the threat Islamic militants pose to ordinary citizens in the West. These videos owe a great deal to the frames established two decades earlier in religious right campaigns against homosexuality. This article provides a textual analysis of these videos and their production, showing how they manifest “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy,” which Richard Hofstadter characterized as the “paranoid style.” We term these films “pseudo-documentaries” because while they utilize some of the conventions of the documentary genre—claims to “fairness and accuracy,” the use of “experts,” and the incorporation of news footage, testimonies, and “facts”—they are produced by political interest groups and are expressly made to persuade and mobilize through distortion. A comparison of homophobic and Islamophobic videos reveals continuities in rightwing rhetoric, as well as strategic shifts, and indicates the emergence of an increasingly fragmented, pluralized, and privatized political sphere. (OA)

Denying the link between Islamophobia and racism both discounts the weight of evidence and compounds the pain of those who have lost friends and loved ones to hate-motivated violence.

White Feminism and V-Day

As we approach February 14, the opportunities for learning about white feminism abound. The recent dust up with Rosie O’Donnell on Twitter began with questions for Eve Ensler – who was scheduled to appear on The View – and O’Donnell’s subsequent defensive response to those questions. But, to really appreciate the context of what happened, you have to understand the background on V-Day, indigenous women’s activism, and the substantial critique of Eve Ensler’s work.

For more than 20 years, Indigenous Women in Canada have led Women’s Memorial Marches to signify the strength of decolonization and the power of Indigenous Women’s leadership. Known as the “Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women” (#MMIW), the commemoration has its origins in tragic events of January 1991 a woman was murdered on Powell Street in Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories. Her murder in particular acted as a catalyst and  February 14 became a day of remembrance and mourning.

While this memorial commemoration was well-established in Canada, a number of individuals and organizations have chosen to link February 14 to their own lobbying for women-themed causes, most notably Eve Ensler’s campaigns V-Day and her more recent endeavor One Billion Rising (OBR). Many indigenous women in the US and beyond are not only standing in solidarity with indigenous women of Canada on February 14, they are actively resisting the Ensler-industrial-complex of events. A leader in this resistance is Lauren Chief Elk (@ChiefElk), who writes:

We love the idea of using Valentine’s Day to talk about what respect and consent look like and how we can stand up against sexual violence. However, due to the mistreatment and disrespect of women of color, indigenous women, and queer women by Eve Ensler and the V-Day campaign, we can no longer support her work.

In an Open Letter to Eve Ensler Lauren Chief Elk (@ChiefElk) says, in part, the following:

This all started because on Twitter, I addressed some issues that I had with V-Day, your organization, and the way it treated Indigenous women in Canada. I said that you are racist and dismissive of Indigenous people. You wrote to me that you were upset that I would suggest this, and not even 24 hours later you were on the Joy Behar Show referring to your chemotherapy treatment as a “Shamanistic exercise”.

The “Shamanistic exercise,” refers to the fact that Ensler was diagnosed with cancer and traveled to Congo, in central Africa, to seek alternative healing. She wrote a book about her experiences called, In the Body of the World.  In it, she refers to her cancer as similar to the injuries of women who had been raped, referring to it as “Congo Stigmata,” which of course, became a popular hashtag. For everything wrong with this bit of cultural appropriation, see this Storify by Mikki Kendall, or this piece by Jude Wanga, or this recap by Kelly Bennett.

Eve Ensler in Congo

(Eve Ensler, left. Image source)

Back to the  Open Letter to Ensler from Lauren Chief Elk (@ChiefElk):

Your organization took a photo of Ashley Callingbull, and used it to promote V-Day Canada and One Billion Rising, without her consent. You then wrote the word “vanishing” on the photo, and implied that Indigenous women are disappearing, and inherently suggested that we are in some type of dire need of your saving. You then said that Indigenous women were V-Day Canada’s “spotlight”. V-Day completely ignored the fact that February 14th is an iconic day for Indigenous women in Canada, and marches, vigils, and rallies had already been happening for decades to honor the missing and murdered Indigenous women. You repeatedly in our conversation insisted that you had absolutely no idea that these events were already taking place. So then, what were you spotlighting? When Kelleigh brought up that it was problematic for you to be completely unaware that this date is important to the women you’re spotlighting, your managing director Cecile Lipworth became extremely defensive and responded with “Well, every date on the Calendar has importance.” This is not an acceptable response.

When women in Canada brought up these exact issues, V-Day responded to them by deleting the comment threads that were on Facebook. For a person and organization who works to end violence against women, this is certainly the opposite of that. Although I’m specifically addressing V-Day, this is not an isolated incident. This is something that Indigenous women constantly face. This erasure of identity and white, colonial, feminism is in fact, a form of violence against us. The exploitation and cultural appropriation creates and excuses the violence done to us.

When I told you that your white, colonial, feminism is hurting us, you started crying. Eve, you are not the victim here. This is also part of the pattern which is a problem: Indigenous women are constantly trying to explain all of these issues, and are constantly met with “Why are you attacking me?!” This is not being a good ally.

Lauren Chief Elk speaks the truth and Ensler’s work is a clear illustration of the trouble with white feminism.

Eve Ensler

 

Ensler, her organizations, and the appropriation of V-Day are part of what many have begun to name as “carceral feminism, much of it around claims about “trafficking.” In a recent peer-reviewed article in Signs, scholar Elizabeth Bernstein writes:

“…feminist and evangelical Christian activists have directed increasing attention toward the “traffic in women” as a dangerous manifestation of global gender inequalities. Despite renowned disagreements around the politics of sex and gender, these groups have come together to advocate for harsher penalties against traffickers, prostitutes’ customers, and nations deemed to be taking insufficient steps to stem the flow of trafficked women. In this essay, I argue that what has served to unite this coalition of ‘strange bedfellows’ is not simply an underlying commitment to conservative ideals of sexuality, as previous commentators have  offered, but an equally significant commitment to carceral paradigms of justice and to militarized humanitarianism as the preeminent mode of engagement by the state.”

To put it more plainly, what the focus on incarceration as a solution to gender inequalities does is both insufficient to address the problems that women (of all races) are confronted with and shifts them on to another system of oppression that literally consumes the bodies of black and brown men. The blogger Prison Culture puts this succinctly here:

I’m a feminist and a prison abolitionist. I have previously mentioned that there was actually a time when prison abolition was a feminist concern. Times have changed and it’s more likely that you’ll find feminists calling for more & longer prison sentences than for an end to them. One Billion Rising for Justice seems to want to hew to some feminists’ histories of resisting the carceral state. Unfortunately, it falls way, way short.

Indeed, it does fall way, way short. I’ll be back with more about Rosie’s defense of Ensler in a subsequent post in this series.

 

* * *

~ This post is part of a series, The Trouble with White Feminism. If you’re new here, this is the fifteenth post in an on-going series I began in 2014. To read the previous entries, begin with the initial post and navigate through using the “Read next post in series” link. I’ll eventually compile all these into an e-Book, for ease of reading. If you have suggestions for what to include in the series, use the contact form on this blog, or hit me up on the Twitter machine: @JessieNYC

 >>>>Read the next post in this series